Compiled by Keith Hunt
The following is taken from "ABC's of Nature - a family answer
book" by Reader's digest 1984.
All capital words are mine throughout for emphasis.
THE DIMINUTIVE MOSSES
What are mosses?
......They are members of a group of plants called
BRYOPHYTES, which also include the less familiar LIVERWORTS and
Mosses are generally small, standing no more than a few
inches high or creeping flat across the ground and other
surfaces.....most mosses lack any specialized tissue for
transporting food or water from one part of the plant to another.
Because they have no such "plumbing" system, they are not
considered to have true roots, stems, or leaves. The "roots" of a
moss, for example, serve only to hold it in place, not to bring
water and nutrients up from the ground; the whole surface of the
plant absorbs these vital substances. And the "leaves," except at
their midribs, are usually only a single cell thick. Nor do
mosses produce any FLOWERS or SEEDS. Instead they are generally
topped by grainlike little SPORES capsules on long slender
stalks. The spores germinate into plants that produce eggs and
sperm. The fertilized eggs, in turn, give rise to a new
generation of spore-producing plants. And so the cycle continues.
HOW DO MOSSES REPRODUCE?
The two-stage life cycle of a moss plant begins with a spore
that spills from the spore capsule of a parent plant. The spore
herminates into a branching green thread, and buds along its
length sprout into new moss plants. In many species some of these
grow into male, sperm-producing plants, others into female,
egg-producing plants. when they are mature, a sperm cell from a
male plant swims through a film of dew or other moisture
to a nearby female plant and fertilizes an egg cell. The
fertilized egg then grows into a spore-producing plant - slender
stalk topped by a spore capsule - that remains attached to the
parent plant. When spores are released from the capsule, the
two-stage cycle begins again.
WHERE DO MOSSES GROW?
Although they may seen delicate and fragile, mosses are
actually quite tough and hardy. Various finds can be found from
the shores of the Arctic Ocean through the tropics to parts of
Antarctica. Some manage to survive in deserts and on sunbaked
rocks, while other live in bogs and streams. But most mosses
prefer damp, shaded locations in temperate climates. In forests
they frequently form thick cushiony mats that completely
cover rotting logs and the woodland floor.
Some mosses require specialized living conditions. Certain
species grow only on acid soil, others only on alkaline. Still
others, the so-called copper mosses, live only in the vicinity of
copper and furnish valuable clues to the presence of ore
Another specialized type, luminous moss, is restricted to
caves, recesses under the roots of trees, and similar dimly lit
places. Equipped with cells shaped like tiny lenses,
it focuses what little light there is on its food-making
chlorophyll granules. In the near darkness of the places where it
grows, luminous moss seems to glow with a golden-green
light. It really shines by reflecting light, not its own.
IS IT TRUE THAT MOSS GROWS ONLY ON
THE NORTH SIDE OF TREES?
Folklore tells of many a person, lost in the woods, who
found his way to safety by using moss as a kind of natural
compass indicating north. And in fact, moss does TEND to frow
more luxuriantly on the north side of tree trunks, for that is
usually the shadier, moister side. But other factors, such as the
presence or absence of nearby trees, also influence the growth of
moss, and it can be found on any and all sides of trees. so while
the moss on tree trunks frequently gives a clue to general
direction, it is far from fool-proof "compass."
CAN MOSSES ENDURE DROUGHT?
Although mosses are moisture-loving plants, most kinds can
survive long severe dry spells. For one thing, they can store
large quantities of water in their cells and draw on this reserve
during the first few days or weeks of drought. Then, when this
water is almost gone, they simply go dormant. Their leaves curl
up, so that no remaining moisture evaporates. The whole plant
shrivels, turns brown, and looks completely dead. But the
spark of life remains. As soon as the rains return, the plants
become green and fresh again, almost overnight, and resume their
WHEN IS A MOSS NOT A MOSS?
Down through the ages, many a plant has come to be called a
moss even though it is not related to mosses at all.....Reindeer
moss, another lichen, is a mainstay in the diets of reindeer and
caribou in the far northern lands. And club mosses, a whole group
of plants that often look mossy indeed, are actually only very
distantly related to mosses. But the least mosslike of all in the
family tree of plants is spanish moss, which hangs in greyish
festoons from trees in the southeastern United States. Though its
blossoms are minute and seldom noticed, it is in fact a flowing
plant of the pineapple family.
ARE MOSSES USEFUL TO MAN?
Mosses play an important role in forming soil in which other
plants can take root. These low-growing plants protect bare soil
from erosion, and when they decay they too turn into components
But in the most part, mosses have seldom been of great
importance to people. Some kinds have been traditionally used for
stuffing mattresses. Just as many birds line their nests with
moss, so in Lapland, mothers use it to line their infants'
cradles. In North America, pioneers employed moss to chink the
cracks in their log cabins. And in Japan, gardens are sometimes
planted with nothing but mosses.
Today, however, the only mosses with widespread commercial
value are the many kinds of sphagnum, or peat moss. Most
gardeners are well acquainted with sphagnum....(sphagnum can
absorb 20 times its own weight in water)....Among the
mosses that thrive in water, sphagnum can fill in entire ponds
and transform them into bogs. In time the sphagnum in bogs is
compressed into peat. When cut into slabs and dried, peat makes a
good fuel that burns with some smoke. It was once widely used in
CLUB MOSSES AND HORSETAILS
How do club mosses differ from true mosses?
The creeping evergreen woodland plants commonly known as
ground pine and running cedar are familiar examples of club
mosses. Although they are neither conifers nor mosses, some do
indeed resemble miniature pines and cedars, and others are
decidedly mosslike in appearance.
But unlike true mosses, club mosses and their relatives -
spike mosses, quilworts, and horsetails - all have true leaves,
stems, and roots. The leaves often are narrow, scalelike, and
densely packed around the stems, giving many species their mossy
And unlike the true mosses and other simpler plants, club
mosses and their kin are equipped with special water-conducting
tissues - a vascular, or circulatory system. Well-developed
bundles of tubelike cells transport water and nutrients from the
roots to leaves; similar sets of cells distribute food throughout
DO ALL CLUB MOSSES CREEP ACROSS
In temperate climates club mosses are primarily low-growing
plants of moist, shaded woodlands. Typical, branching stems
spread across the ground, sending up leafy stalks all along their
But the majority of club mosses live in the tropics and
subtropics, where many of them have adopted a different
life-style. Instead of sprawling on the ground, they cling to
the trunks and limbs of trees, their roots anchored in debris
that has collected in crevices and crannies.
The closely related spike mosses, also mainly tropical, are
more varied. Some look mossy, others resemble miniature ferns;
some creep, some stand erect, and others form filmy mats.....
WHAT ARE THE CLUBS ON CLUB MOSSES?
The upright stems of many club mosses are topped with
slender little clublike structures that account for the plants'
common name....The clubs, known as strobili, are actually
SPORE-bearing structures. ....(In species without strobili, the
spore cases are scattered along the stems).
When the spores are ripe, they are released and blown about
by the wind......The highly flammable golden "dust" known as
vegetable sulphur, is collected for medical purposes and also for
use in manufacturing fireworks.
DO THE SPORES SPROUT INTO NEW PLANTS?
The club mosses we see on the forest floor do not grow
DIRECTLY from spores. When the spores germinate, each one
develops into a diminutive plants, called a prothallus, that
looks nothing like the parent plant. In most tropical species,
the prothalli are so small that they are rarely noticed....The
prothalli of cool-climate species are larger, sometimes as big as
grapes. But they too go unnoticed, for they usually develop
At maturity, sex organs develop on the prothallus, some
producing male reproductive cells, others female cells.
Fertilization takes place when a male cell, or sperm, swims
through a film of water and unites with a female cell, or egg.
The fertilized egg then develops into a green spore-producing
In most tropical species, all this happens within a matter
of months. Temperate-region kinds develop more slowly. Frequently
two or three years, pass before the spores even germinate. Then
10 years or more may elapse while the prothallus matures, leading
its hidden life underfoot.
WHAT ARE HORSETAILS?
Some two dozen or so species of the strange and simple
plants called horsetails thrive in waste places around much of
the globe. Most are less than 3 feet tall, although one vinelike
horsetail of the American tropics occasionally reaches heights of
Many of the horsetails have cone-like spore-producing
structures at the tips of the stems. Others send up
special-producing shoots up that die back after the spores are
shed. The spores like those of the club mosses, germinate into
inconspicuous prothalli, when then produce the familiar
WHY ARE SOME HORSETAILS CALLED
The stems of many horsetails have a gritty feel, the result
of silica deposits in some of the cells. (Silica is the hard,
glassy mineral of which quartz and sand grains are composed). In
one species, an unbranched type that grows in moist places, so
much silica is present that the plant has earned the name
SCOURING RUSH. In the days before chemical cleaners were
invented, these plants were used for scouring pots and
pans and scrubbing wooden floors. A few craftsmen still rely on
horsetails when a gentle fine sanding is required, as in the
making of wooden musical instruments. And the "rushes" continue
to serve as an ingredient in a few abrasive powders.
Except for these incidental uses, however, horsetails have
few practical applications today.
ARE FOSSIL FORMS VALUABLE?
......Some of the long-extinct horsetails were some 50 feet
tall. The ancestors of today's lowly club mosses were even
bigger, with trunks up to 100 feet and 3 feet in diameter. Their
spore-bearing cones were up to a foot long, and some had leaves
more than three feet long......
Yet without them, life on earth would be far different from
what it is today. The remains of the lush, long-gone forests
accumulated in thick layers of organic matter. Subsequently
buried beneath younger sedimentary rocks, they were compressed
into tremendous deposits of COAL.
Are ferns very common?
To many people, ferns are familiar only as house and garden
plants, and as sprays of greenery that florists include with
bundles of cut flowers. Or they may be acquainted with one or two
lacy-leaved types that grow in damp, dark woodlands.
In fact ferns are a widespread group of plants including
some 10,000 species. They are most abundant in warm, moist
tropical regions, but some range northward into the
tundra, other grow in rocky places, and a few even live in water.
They range in size from kinds so small that they resemble carpets
of moss to others that are as tall as trees.
HOW DO FERNS GROW?
Although ferns are among the many plants that lack flowers,
they do possess true leaves, stems, and roots. The stems usually
go unnoticed, however, since they generally trail underground.
The visible part of the plant consists only of leaves, or fronds,
rising at intervals from the underground stem.....
In cool climates the leaves of most ferns die back in autumn
and are replaced by the new growth the following spring. In
warmer regions, many species grow as epiphytes attached to the
trunks and branches of trees and remain green all year round.
WHAT ARE THE DOTS ON FERN FRONDS?
Many a plant lover has been alarmed at the discovery of
small dark spots on the undersides of the leaves of a favorite
fern. Far from the result of some disease or insect
pest, however, the spots are actually clusters of SPORE sacs. In
some species, the spots, called sori, are bare; in others, each
is covered by a little flap of tissue. Depending on the type of
fern, the sori may be round, curved, lang and slender, or take a
variety of other shapes.....
HOW DO FERNS REPRODUCE?
Whatever the arrangement of a fern's spore sacs, their
ultimate fate is the same: when the spores are mature, the sacs
burst open and scatter the dustlike granules to the wind. Those
that land in favorable places germinate into small, flat, usually
heart-shaped plants called prothalli. Most are less than half an
Like those of club mosses and horsetails, fern prothalli
produce male and female sex cells - sperms and eggs. When they
are mature, the sperms unite with the eggs. And from each united
egg a new spore-producing fern plant grows.
Fern also multiply by other means. New clusters of leaves
may rise from the spreading underground stems, and in this way
large colonies may be produced. Some ferns reproduce tiny
bulb-like growths on the underside of their leaflets. At
maturity, the bulblets fall off and grow into a new plant. And
the walking fern gets its name from its habit of producing new
plantlets at the tips of its lance-shaped leaves; the leaves arch
down and touch the soil, permitting the plantlets to take root
and so "walk" away.
CAN ANY FERNS FLOAT?
Among the least fernlike of ferns are the several kinds that
live in water. Some - the water clovers, with their
shamrock-shaped fronds - grow rooted in the mud in shallow
ponds. Others have dispensed with roots entirely and simply float
on the surface of lakes, ponds, and sluggish streams.
One of the floaters, water spangles, has rows of nearly
circled leaves, and carpets the water with masses of greenery.
Others, the mosquito ferns, have even tinier leaves. But they
form such dense mats that they have sometimes been used for
MOSQUITO CONTROL. The leaves grow so profusely that mosquito
larvae are unable to break through to the surface to breathe. The
plants are even considered pests in some areas; the choking
growths of the midget ferns are sometimes so dense that they
interfere with boating, fishing, and other uses of waterways.
WHAT ARE FERN TREES?
Ferns as big as trees were common in the swampy forests that
flourished.....millions of years ago. Some had trunks several
feet in diameter and as much as 100 feet tall. Topped by crowns
of lacy fronds up to 15 feet long, they looked much like
present-day palms. Their dead remains, along with those of the
giant club mosses and horsetails, were compacted into the coal
deposits we mine today.
Similar-looking tree ferns still survive in many parts of
the world, especially in warm, moist tropical rain forests. Some
of them reach heights of 70 feet or more, and are the largest of
all living ferns. In places like the Hawaiian Islands, these
giants sometimes grow in solid stands......
ARE ALL FERNS FEATHERY?
Although we tend to think of ferns as delicate, lacy,
featherlike plants, they come with a surprising assortment of
leaf form. The stout fronds of the royal fern, topped by
beadlike clusters of spore sacs, sometimes grow six feet tall.
The delicate Venus maidenhair fern bears broad leaflets on
much-branched fronds. The fronds of the hart's tongue fern, in
contrast, are straplike and leathery.
Many others are even less fernlike. Curly grass ferns are
slender and grasslike; some of the climbing ferns are vinelike
and look remarkably like ivy. The tropical staghorn fern has
fronds that are branched and look something like antlers. Among
the aquatic ferns, the water clovers have floating fronds divided
into four leaflets and look like four-leaved clovers....
Ferns, Horsetails, all were created for a purpose by the
Eternal in the design of the vegetation on this earth, but ferns
and horsetails were never mean by God for mankind to go and
gather from the forests, and lakes, and bogs, and cut down and
chop up and use for food or mix among other vegetation that was
created for us to eat, as part of our salad bowl. So also with
mosses. God never intended for mankind to go out and scrape
up the various mosses, bake them and/or spread them on our bread
as some form of butter or sandwich mix.
Just think what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in
the garden of Eden. Here they had all the wonderful fruit trees
of the spring and fall seasons, just makes my mouth water
thinking about it. Then there were the figs, dates, all that kind
of fruit. The book of Genesis does not go into all the details,
but God must have given them a "tour of the garden" and must have
taught them His food laws. He must have shown them all the fruits
and all the great green seedbearing vegetation that he had
created for them to eat, such as the tomato, the carrots, peas,
snow and running beans, the potato, the broccoli, cabbage,
cauliflower, sweet potato, spinach, and many more. I think about
the large grapes hanging on the vines, the melons, cantaloup, and
then there must have been the blueberry bushes, the raspberry
bushes, and the strawberries. Truly the garden of Eden must have
been a land flowing with milk and honey, literally and
figuratively, for indeed there were the cows and goats for milk,
and the bees making their honey.
God would have instructed them on which animals were clean
and created for meat to eat as part of their diet. We know from
the life of Abel and Cain that "animal sacrifices" and "grain
offerings" were obviously taught to them by the Eternal from the
very start. God brought man and woman together in marriage. He
must have instructed them on marriage, sex, childbearing and
birth, as well as child rearing. There is so much and so many
things God must have taught them, but we are not told those
details. It is probably not detailed as we are to take all that
as a "given." A God of love and caring and friendship, would not
create a full grown man and woman who would find themselves
"alive and there" in this garden, without taking lots of time to
educate them on the very basics of physical living and marriage
God did not create ALL vegetation for human consumption. The
variety of vegetation that is green and seed bearing, that is the
obvious and needs very little guess-work, is varied indeed. God
is a God of variety for sure. The things He has ordained for
us as "clean" food to eat is certainly varied, no need to be
bored in what we can under God's laws eat for food.
One of those food laws is eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
The modern scientific world is telling us over and over again
that a PART of having a good healthy life is by eating lots of
fruits and vegetables. I add as do others in the "natural health
industry" that you should eat those fruits and vegetables in
organic form if at all possible. If you can have your own garden
then you should. It is a wonderful blessing to have organic
vegetables in your own back yard.
Compiled and written July 2003